NEW ORLEANS – A busy day in the Sun Belt Conference has culminated with the additions of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern as all-sports members and Idaho and New Mexico State as football playing members. All four announcements took place throughout the course of the day on Wednesday.
Both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern bring with them highly successfully football programs and each team will begin the process of transitioning to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) immediately. The 2014 Sun Belt football season will mark the debut of both in the league schedule and standings. Additionally, both the Mountaineers and Eagles will be able to compete for the league championship in football for the 2014 season. Both teams will first be eligible to compete in a spot for a postseason bowl game come the 2015 season.
Idaho and New Mexico State are familiar partners of the Sun Belt Conference, having been football members from the league’s inaugural year of football in 2001 through the 2004 season. Both members played an integral part of forming the Sun Belt Conference for football and now add strength to the league. Having reached the 12 team mark, the Sun Belt Conference can now play a football championship game should it choose to do so. Both teams will be immediately eligible to compete for the Sun Belt football championship and also for a spot in postseason bowl games.
There is no question that the Sun Belt Conference is a league on the rise in football. After all, the conference finished with its most non-conference wins in league history in 2012 and also sent a record four teams to bowl games. The conference also finished the 2012 season with its best ever average computer ranking – finishing ahead of Conference USA and the Mountain West.
The league also had two wins over top-25 ranked opponents and Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State won their respective bowl games. All four Sun Belt Conference institutions that went to bowl games in 2012 return for the 2013 season.
The 2012-13 men’s basketball season has seen the league put together its best non-conference RPI in four years while sending two teams to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Notably, the Sun Belt’s men’s and women’s basketball teams combined for a record tying seven postseason appearances this season.
In other sports, the league is known for placing multiple teams in the NCAA baseball and softball tournaments year-after-year. Baseball and softball teams from the Sun Belt Conference are usually easy to spot in the national top 25 rankings.
Through it all, Sun Belt student-athletes excel in the classroom as well. A record 1,793 Sun Belt Conference student-athletes earned a GPA over 3.0 for the previous school year and were named to either the SBC Academic Honor Roll or SBC Commissioner’s List. The 2011-12 academic year marked the third time in the last four years that the academic honors were doled out to 1,700 or more student-athletes.
The Sun Belt Conference will contest the 2013 football season with eight members – Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy and Western Kentucky University. UALR and UT Arlington compete as non-football members.